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For the background to this story, read our article about the school named and  its proprietor John Brook by going to




The title above was the headline to one of the original reports on the case of Miles v Brooks and illustrates the Victorian attitude to corporal punishment - whatever kind of school attended by your child, you could expect your child to be beaten - how else was the schoolmaster (or school mistress - girls were beaten too) going to get knowledge into your child's head? And we can read in the press of the day that  that some of the beatings were very severe indeed. However, the incident described below did virtually no damage to the school's reputation - if anything, it was enhanced by its firm demonstration that under Mr. Brook's "care", there was no danger of the child being spoilt if the rod was spared.

Rhoda Miles, the mother who brought this action was the young widow of a Missionary and in the letters column of local newspapers, she got scant sympathy for bringing the case - didn't she realise that she would never make a man of Northcote with this namby- pamby approach. And, cruellest cut of all, if his father had still  been alive, he would have understood the need for discipline and none of this nonsense would have happened.


From The Western Times

Wednesday 1 May 1895

"At South Molton Special County Sessions yesterday before the Rev, J. Vowler Tanner (in the chair), Dr. Hatherly, the Rev, Prebendary Matthews and Mr. J. Mortimer, John Brooks of Chulmleigh, Principal of Hill house Academy, was charged by Mr. Horace Minns of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, with beating and assaulting Nothcote Richard Miles, aged nine years, son of the widow of a missionary who  had been in India.

Mr. A. F. Seldon of Barnstaple appeared for the Mrs Miles, the Prosecutrix - Mr J. Bosson of Barnstaple for the defence.

The witnesses having been ordered out of court, Mr. Seldon stated the case for the prosecution. He admitted that a schoolmaster had the right to administer a certain amount of corporal punishment, but he was of opinion that the punishment inflicted in this case was excessive on a lad of delicate organisation.

Northcote Richard Miles, living at Barnstaple, and being at school with Mr Brooks, said he went there on the 19th of January. His birthday was on the 9th of April. He got up early that morning. He had spilt some ink in the schoolroom on the previous night. He was about to ask a question and, leaving his place to go to the desk, he accidentally upset an ink bottle. Next day he was in Mr. Smith's classroom when Mr Brooks came and told him he was wanted. He went downstairs with him. Mr Brooks had a stick in his hand a little bigger than the one produced in court. He asked me if I had spilt the ink. He then took me by the coat and beat me on both arms and legs, across the thigh, on the shoulder, both legs across the thigh and across the face. I ran  and cried. He then took me where the ink was spilled; told me I was a naughty boy and the beating was for making a mess in the WC. He then sent me to bed. Mrs. Brooks then came and attended to the bruises; she put wadding on them and applied linseed poultices to them four times. I went home on the following Thursday.

Cross examined by Mr. Bosson, Miles said Mr Powlesland spoke to him about the affair in the WC but none of the boys mentioned the matter to him or made any complaint. It was not the first time this had happened.  Mr. Brooks caught hold of him and pushed him up towards the desk, hitting him about the legs. If anyone said he ran up, it was not true. He was trying to get to the door.

Cross examined by the Chairman, Miles said:  I had been punished before but never for the same reason.

In response to a question by Mr. Seldon, Northcote answered "I have a natural weakness which I cannot  help."

Superintendent Richard Eddy of Barnstaple Borough Police said he accompanied Inspector Minns to Mrs Miles' house on Tuesday 16th April. He saw the boy examined and made a note of the bruises - one on the face, one on the right shoulder, both arms were badly bruised between the shoulder and the elbow and about six inches in length; they were black in colour, two in front of the left thigh about the size of a hand, two on the  right hip, one large, one smaller, about the size of a five shilling piece and two or three smaller ones. It looked as though it would take considerable force to cause the bruises. That was one week after the beating.

To Mr. Bosson's remarks, the Superintendent replied they were bad bruises.

The Chairman intervened to remark: No skin was broken.

Horace Minns, NSPCC Inspector went to Mrs Miles' house with Inspector Eddy, and corroborated the statements made by the Inspector. He made the total 13 bruises. In his opinion, the boy had been cruelly beaten.

Mr. J. Harper MRCS of Barnstaple examined the boy on 24th April when the bruises had disappeared to a great extent. He thought the boy had been severely punished. It must have taken considerable violence to to have produced such severe punishment.

The Chairman again intervened to which Mr Harper replied - It was a fortnight afterwards that I saw him. They were then fading bruises. The boy must have suffered considerable bodily pain.

Mr. Bosson for the defence said he was not going to plead Mr. Brook's previous character in mitigation but would take the case on its merits and show that Mr Brooks had only done that which a father might have done under similar circumstances. He quoted Regina v Hapley to show that there was a reasonable power of punishment vested in the schoolmaster.

Mr Seddon said that had occurred before 1894.

Philip Hocguard (14) a boarder at the school for seven years, said he remembered the day in question. Mr. Brooks had called the complainant down and asked him some questions, and giving him a stripe or two and he ran against a desk and fell. Mr Brooks picked him up and sent him to his bedroom. He did not take him by the collar. Mr Brooks struck him once or twice after he picked him up. The affair lasted a minute or two. Complainant did not shed a tear. Mr Brooks was not in a passion.  Witness thought it was not a thrashing that would hurt anybody.

Mr Seldon to the witness: The complainant tried to screech. Mr Brooks hit him 7 or 8 times on his leg, back and arms. Miles ran up and down the schoolroom. Mr Brooks followed him and beat him.

The witness was questioned by the Chairman: Hocguard said he had been at the school for several years and seen many boys caned. For instance Franklin Baker was caned worse before this happened.

Franklin Baker (13), Samuel Passmore (15) Thomas Elworthy (14) and William Murch were then called. The Chairman said at this stage that they were unanimously of opinion that they could not convict on the evidence offered. The case was therefore dismissed.


Northcote never went back to the school and his mother moved the family across the county to Exmouth where no one knew them . Many actions were reported in local newspapers but parents won very few of them. To read the story of another court action go to





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